A Nature Walk [a descriptive essay]
The ground beneath the stiff leaves is frozen. The cold, brisk air invades my lungs, I exhale, my breath visible. I step over fallen branches and tugged by thorny vines. A red tail hawk screeches overhead, this is a sign of good luck. There is no path, no trail to mark our way, just an old, flat railroad bed surrounded by walls of shale, blown up for the path of the train so long ago. The only ties to remind of the rail are the rotting, moss covered ties that once were a part of a bridge that would have carried the train over a small creek between two steep hills. I see a fox burrow, and it's escape hatch is one of the hollowed railroad ties. I want to be a fox... The trek down this hill is not easy, thorny blackberry bushes and fallen trees impede progress. At the bottom, the small, bubbly creek is frozen at the edges, traveling under rocks and continuing its ancient path. I look up the hill that I just descended, and wonder how the return will go. Keep moving. The next hill will be easier, there are no thorny tangles, just treacherous leaf litter that will give under my feet if I don't find the right footing. The trick is to dig my boots into the ground as if I'm on steps. These hills are steep. Finally at the top, I look back at this little spring valley, I'm not that high up, but what view. Here, there is a dilapidated tree stand, falling apart from years of neglect and weather. Surrounded by deep leaf litter, there is a patch of rich dark earth, a buck has marked his spot, his round pellets are nearby. The saplings catch my hair as I walk by, and at these moments I am thankful for this cold snap that took care of the ticks. A creepy feeling takes over me, so thankful for this snap. A few feet further, as I watch where I am walking, another tussled bit of earth and I notice some interesting scat. It's furry and light grey; I poke it with my stick and find a small skull when I turn a piece over. Owl. I continue my walk, I didn't come here to play with poo. The last time I took this hike was three years ago, on a similar frigid day. It was a lot easier to make it through the shale valleys. Last summer, a wind storm felled trees and took out power for two weeks. The evidence of that derecho is clear here in this untouched forest. I remembered a tree, which now is a fallen giant, that had lost it's bark. The bark had separated and laid around this tree like a woman's skirt around her ankles. Now the tree lies with it's bark. I pass another tree I recognize whose branch extends out but zig zags up and down, as if it had three elbows. The tree signifies my next move, to descend from the flat railroad bed, down to a creek that flows through the tunnel that would have carried the train. The creek is considerably larger than the last creek I could step across. Descending towards the creek leads me over moss covered rocks and limbs, still bearing snow. Outside the tunnel, the hill walls are large stones, covered in a thick layer of moss, some of which has started to fall off due to heaviness. There's a sort of ice shelf in the creek, it's three layers thick and can support my one hundred and twenty pounds. Laying across the creek is another derecho-felled tree. Some sort of critter has crawled on this, using it to avoid the water below and as a short cut up the hill. His claw marks are covering the the limb, a few are more clear, it looks as if the creature almost slipped off. His claw marks show a desperate cling. I walk through the tunnel, in the mud and water; the creek echoes inside. I look above. There are drainage holes lining the ceiling, one is clogged by a giant icicle. I imagine the train that used to ride over this tunnel, I pretend to hear it and feel the rumbling. The last time we were here, we found cow skeletons. We placed a few heads on branches and one over the tunnel. We stuck a jaw, complete with herbivore teeth, into the mossy wall and a hip bone on a sapling. The hip bone reminded us of Predator's mask in the movie. All these bones are turning green. When I was here before, there was a bone half submerged in the creek; I had taken a picture of it but today, it isn't here. I'm sure it was washed away. After our exploration of the previous visit, we turned back. We are cold again, can't stay in one place too long. I climb through the deep leaf litter and over the rocks back to the railroad bed. Passing all the things I've already seen and spotting things I missed. I find two more fox burrows. They utilized the shale rock and burrowed underneath the jutting formations. Hidden coming from the south, the gaping openings seem welcoming from the north. My friends, the spelunkers and climber, want to descend into the darkness but I remind them, it is an hour to sundown, our trek is hard enough with overcast daylight. Wisdom prevails. We pass a tree, we didn't notice before, that was struck by lightening. The cedar tree was split in two and fell down the shale wall. I see the evidence of the burn and a smoldered residue at the base. Nature has a cruel way of recycling. The downed tree still has snow on it and the path of a raccoon is visible, I like the paws of coons. Though the way is flat, the walls of shale tower above us, limiting routes. At one point I can't see through the fallen trees I have to pass through. I have to crab walk under, crawl over, duck again and find my way around the thorny collections of bare black berry bushes. Finally into a clearing, still surrounded by sharp shale, there is another wall covered in inches of thick, healthy moss. I place my hand, taking time to stroke the furry wall. My hand leaves an imprint. I wonder how long that will last.. Back down the steep hill up and up the thorny tangle. I know I'm on the right path up, I see the fox's hole through the railroad tie, and his entrance burrow up the hill. Going down was definitely easier. The summit is literally overgrown with thorns, there is no clear path through. It is, again, impossible to see through the tangle of limbs and saplings and more thorns. Somehow we make it through. We are close to breaking off this path. We know this by the remains of a cow skeleton that more than likely fell from the top of the shale cliff. Femurs and ribs and jaws abound. On the last trip, we placed a hip bone in the "Y" of a sapling. The young tree has claimed it, growing around it. We add a piece of jaw to the tree's ornamentation and move on. We climb down from the railroad bed to our car - parked on the side of the road with a white towel in the window so that no one suspects a group of people walking through private property, past faded NO TRESPASSING signs.
When I undress for bed later, there are many small scratches up and down my legs from those damned thorny vines. I'm okay with that, it's better than searching for ticks in my head.
I couldn't write a 'poem' about this hike. It was too full of nature.
I think we all have a beautiful place in our mind. I have a wonderful place that made me happy a lot of times, years ago. But sometimes I think that I am the only person who likes this place and I’m asking myself if this place will be as beautiful as I thought when I will go back to visit it again. Perhaps I made it beautiful in my mind.
This place is meaningful to me because it is part of the county I loved, is part of the county where I grew up and is part of my childhood. This place is in the country in an old region named Appalachia, a small piece of the Appalachian Mountains, in a town named Pikeville.
Pikeville is a polluted town because of the coal industry. People live in apartment or condominium buildings because of its little space available. I grew up in one of the many buildings in Pikeville admiring from my bedroom window the beauty of the mountains, always exploring with my eyes the forest or the meadows, looking for a clean and quiet place. And, I found one on a hill in the back of the town. It is about 100 feet square, it has seven old trees, wild flowers and a lot of bugs and ants during summer time.
I used to go there to sit down on a rock and watch the town and my trees. There was a very old tree, a maple tree, with a huge trunk. The others were smaller, three in the back, three on my left side and the old maple tree on my right. There were flowers, many kinds, white, yellow, purple and blue. It was nobody’s place. Nobody owned that hill, but it was beautiful and peaceful and I dreamed many times about a white house over there.
I think that, these kinds of places are meaningful to people because they are natural and people can be there alone, away from their everyday life.
I used to go there to be alone or to dream with my eyes open admiring the blue sky or the clouds. I liked to go there to lay down on the grass, listen to the wind, kiss the flowers and watch the leaves moving. It was hard to go up the hill to get there, but I wanted to see everyday my seven trees, to see how the color of the leaves changed and to feel the softness of the grass.
I used to go there with a reason or with no reason at all. I knew that I had to be there to forget who I am, to breath and re-feed myself with hope. That was the only place I could go to dance, or sing, or cry. That place was part of me. The wind was part of my breath, the leaves were part of my song, the flowers were part of my purity and the trees were my friends that I used to hug every time when I got there.
I used to go there even in winter to play with clean snow. In my native town, even after a fresh snow, we got a gray-black layer of soot over the snow. All the town was covered with dirty snow.
During winter time my place was still beautiful. My trees had branches full of white, heavy snow. The flowers, the birds, the grass were gone, also the rock I used to sit on was hard to be found, but it was still peaceful, quiet and especially clean. The snow angels I made kept watch over this natural splendor.
This place is far, far-away in time and space, part of my childhood and my adolescence. It means a lot to me because it is beautiful and natural, is a clean and quiet place in a world of noise and dirty air. This place is maybe beautiful just in my mind, but it is one of the few friends I had, back in Romania. I really hope that the new construction will spare this place and others like it, for these are the places that can bring us happiness.